The Standard

Building a community of care around retired racehorses

Sophie Kelly and Bit Of A Lad at the Geelong Horse Trials earlier this year - his first horse trials. Picture by Andrea Dunn Photography
Sophie Kelly and Bit Of A Lad at the Geelong Horse Trials earlier this year - his first horse trials. Picture by Andrea Dunn Photography

This is branded content for Racing Victoria.

Around Victoria, there are thousands of former racehorses who've gone on to have second, third and maybe even fourth careers.

These thoroughbreds are on polo fields, show jumping, or at dressage events. They could be hitting the trails carrying their riders into the bush, or helping a young disabled person discover the joy of horse riding.

And they're cared for by devoted owners who say they fell in love with the thoroughbred's quirky personalities, athleticism, trainability and willingness to please.

Today, Racing Victoria is on a mission to locate each of these horses and record their life journeys as part of its goal to have greater visibility over off-the-track thoroughbreds (OTT), and to support the owners helping them transition out of racing.

In 2021, Racing Victoria established the OTT Community, an online platform that, as well as providing support and information for owners and riders, encourages owners to "claim" their horse and help create a record of its life.

By asking thoroughbred owners to register their ownership, Racing Victoria aims to provide greater traceability and allow those involved with a particular horse at various stages in its life to see where they are now.

Passionate thoroughbred owner Jade Willis is part of the OTT Community. She's one of more than 50 retraining specialists that are part of the initiative, working with Racing Victoria to prepare horses for post-racing life.

Named Racing Victoria's 2022 Acknowledged Retrainer of the Year, Ms Willis' commitment to finding useful and loving homes for OTT thoroughbreds has resulted in around 329 being re-homed since 2021.

"The part I love is seeing them transform and find new homes and owners that love them, and then go on to do amazing things," said Ms Willis, whose love of horses began age three when she was popped onto her grandmother's Shetland pony.

"It doesn't matter what that might be - they might go to do polo or eventing or just cruising down the road with someone who wants a plodder - it's seeing them in their new lives that drives me."

2022 Retrainer of the Year Jade Willis with retired racehorse Cracking. Picture supplied
2022 Retrainer of the Year Jade Willis with retired racehorse Cracking. Picture supplied

Ms Willis said she loves the idea of bringing thoroughbred owners together through the OTT Community and particularly being able to easily find out about a horse's post-racing pathway.

"It means previous owners and trainers can see how they are going and know they're okay," she said. "That's a very big thing for them."

Warrnambool horse vet Sophie Kelly recently joined the OTT Community and was eager to head on to the platform and claim her thoroughbred, Bit Of A Lad, who had a highly successful career as a steeplechaser before his retirement last year.

"The traceability is one of the really great things about it," she said. "It's nice to be able to give back in a way to the trainers and the previous owners; they can see where the horse has ended up."

Having owned more than 15 horses so far, Mrs Kelly has always had a "soft spot" for thoroughbreds. She said she fell in love with Bit Of A Lad as soon as she met him.

"I really liked his personality; he's a sweetheart but also has a bit of a cheeky aspect to him," she said. "He's a really kind and giving horse, and obviously quite talented.

"I've had quite a few thoroughbreds and they've given me a lot of joy over the years. Even though they can be a little quirky they always try very hard and have such a willingness to please. That's what I like about them.You always feel they're on your side."

To find out more visit ottcommunity.com.au

This is branded content for Racing Victoria.